Ivory is a natural white substance made predominantly from dentine which is easy to carve into elaborate patterns. It is found on large mammals such as elephants, walrus, narwal and even Hippopotami. African elephant tusks were the major source of ivory used in ornamentation until the 20th century when the demand from Europe, using ivory for piano keys, cigarette holders and other ornaments, became so high it outstripped the supply. The result was a dramatic drop in the elephant population, from 1.3million to only 600,000 which the continuation of ivory poaching endangers. In 1989 the ivory trade was banned by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species.
Ivory has been used for centuries by humans across the globe, from the Ancient Egyptians to contemporary Chinese artisans, in ornaments due to its pure white colour and smooth surface texture.
Early examples of carved ivory ornaments fashioned from walrus or narwhal tusks have been found from arctic tribes and a large quantity of carved ivory figurines were created in the 11th-15th century to create elaborate sculptures of the Virgin Mary, relic cases or crucifixes.
An ethical alternative to animal ivory used in contemporary jewellery is found in the shell of Tagua nuts.